One of Australia’s greatest dining destinations, Quay at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger, reopens on Thursday following a $4 million makeover by its owners, the Fink Group.
The three-month closure for the rebuild also led to a complete design of the menu by chef Peter Gilmore, who will now offer a $210 six course degustation meal for dinner midweek and lunch Friday to Sunday.
Friday and Saturday night diners feature a $275 10-course meal.
Quay’s creative director John Fink was keen to not only maintain the restaurant’s fine dining focus but to redesign what the experience means.
“I am looking forward to witnessing our guests respond to the personalised dining room, and our new service protocols,” he told Business Insider.
“People’s expectations around fine dining are often minding your Ps and Qs, we want to boldly move into uncharted territory in Australian fine dining by thinking outside the box and considering the dining experience as a sum of its parts.”
Fink says the hardest part of the last three months is “having the patience to see the finished product”.
He recruited Rockpool Group’s former food and beverage director, Jeremy Courmadias, as Fink Group general manager to drive the new vision, with restaurant manager Sharon Collins.
Courmadias wants the service “underpinned by a generous dose of humble, personalised hospitality aligned with a sense of understated luxury” that creates an intimate experience rather than making it feel like a church service.
“There is an association with fine dining that often overwhelms people, as a family business it was important to ensure guests feel comfortable and relaxed in order to enjoy and appreciate the Quay experience,” Courmadias says.
One of the most dramatic changes to the room is ditching one of the key symbols of fine dining — a started white tablecloth, for timber tables made from spotted gum.
Fink enlisted architectural group Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, responsible for the look of their other restaurants Bennelong at the Sydney Opera House and Otto in Brisbane to rethink the 80s interior and realign it more closely with Gilmore’s approach to food. Fink’s brief was he wanted “the biggest little restaurant in Australia”.
That meant cutting 20 seats from the former 100 seat room, increasing the focus on the Harbour Bridge, and ditching the old shiny chrome for more natural elements, including a timber ceiling and tables and volcanic lava stone detailing, while Australian designer, Adam Goodrum created “The Quay Chair” with chevron detailing to reference the Opera House shells.
To the right there’s now a 10-seat private dining room facing the Opera House with wall-to-ceiling mirrors and an elliptical table.
Perhaps Fink’s greatest indulgence given the stellar views is the art. The late sculptor Bronwyn Oliver’s “Tide” — the inspiration for the restaurant’s logo features at the entrance and the upstairs event space features the Teamlab animation, Four Seasons, a digital work based on the rice fields of Tashibunosho which synchronises with the actual sunrise, sunset and weather of the Japanese town.
“Only three exist in Australia, we are lucky to showcase one at Quay,” Fink says.
Chef Peter Gilmore has upped the ante on his menu, adding two extra courses to each option, so the choices are now six or 10 courses – on Friday and Saturday nights it’s the 10-course degustation only.
“I wanted to introduce a 10 course tasting menu to be able to put more emphasis on the flow and feel of the dining experience,” Gilmore says.
“With the size course we decided to offer a shorter version of the 10 course tasting menu to facilitate a quicker dining experience, especially at lunch.”
He also wanted to add to the theatre of dining.
“One of my aims in creating the new menu was to have dishes that involved a little more guest participation,” he says.
“A good example of this is the uni winter broth which involves the diner finishing the dish at the table so that the various textures can be experienced in the moment.”
There’s an old saying among orchestra conductors that if you can start and finish properly, you can get away with a fair bit in the middle. Not that Gilmore and his 35-strong team take their foot off the accelerator at any stage, but in scrapping all the dishes that made his reputation over the last 17 years to start afresh, there were two key areas of focus — the first and last dishes.
“It gave me the opportunity to revaluate everything from the smallest detail up,” Gilmore says.
That included the plates with, Paul Davies and Jacqueline Clayton from Red shed Studio Jam, Malcolm Greenwood and Ben Richardson to design ceramics for each dish he had in mind.
Starting the meal with an oyster feels typically Australian, but Gilmore has a confession: he loves how they taste but dislikes their texture, so his challenge was to overcome that — “the flavour to stay, but the texture to change” — in an opening gambit he calls “oyster intervention”.
Served on hand-crafted ceramic oyster shell, it features an oyster cream topped with oyster crackling made from the frill of the oyster and Ossetra caviar.
The finale was an even bigger challenge the new dessert had to replace the “snow egg” ordered by around 70% of diners.
If you’ve had the “lamington” at Bennelong, Gilmore’s other restaurant across the water, you’ll see the genesis of some of the ideas in the new dessert “White coral” — which also gives a nod to another ingredient from across a largely body of water — the feijoa. Originally from Brazil, it’s beloved by New Zealanders.
“This dish took the longest to evolve and get right,” Gilmore says.
It features a light white chocolate ganache aerated under vacuum and then frozen with liquid nitrogen.
“The effect is a light, porous structure that resembles an organic piece of white coral. This is served on a feijoa ice cream with a coconut cream,” he says.
“The white coral is shattered with a spoon by the diner and the flavours of feijoa, coconut and white chocolate harmonize in a light and refreshing yet intense way.”
Whether it can be reproduced by MasterChef contestants remains to be seen.
Here’s a look at the many of the dishes on the Quay menu:
Oyster ‘intervention’ starts the meal
Pea ‘garden’ with miso and anchovy – Gilmore has farmers grow special vegetables, flowers, herbs and other ingredients especially for his menu
Sand crab, Tennouji turnip kombu, squid, and Wakefield cabbage
Malted barley crumpets, Terra Preta truffle
Tasmanian sea urchin features on the new menu
Maremma duck, slow-cooked carrots, red dates and karkalla
‘White coral’ featuring coconut cream and feijoa ice-cream is the new dessert replacing the snow egg.
Also worth noting is the restaurants focus on the drinks.
The 500-plus bin wine list will be updated weekly by head sommelier, Shanteh Wong, with former chief bottle opener Amanda Yallop now the company’s group wine director. There are 32 wines by the glass and four options if you’re looking for the perfect pairing, including a $95 non-alcoholic match called the “temperance pairing”.
The $115 “round of drinks” is designed to showcase “the unsung heroes of the beverage world” with “a collection of brewed, fermented, distilled and blended” options.
The $105 “contemporary pairing” combines both local and international, traditional and modern; wines, with the $205 “Quay pairing” lets the sommeliers push the boat out and reveal their own talents in what they call a “little treasures” selection.
Yallop says the the Quay wine list mirrors Gilmore’s approach to championing locally sourced produce while still tipping its cap to international styles.
You can raise a glass there from this Thursday.
Here’s a look at the new Quay:
The entrance to the revamped Quay at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal
Quay’s new tables show off the spotted gum timber they’re made from
The tower dining space offers 270° views of the bridge, Opera House and Sydney Harbour
The focus for diners realigned more towards the Harbour Bridge on the room’s left
The use of natural materials is designed to reflect the chef’s focus on the landscape
The blue carpet symbolises the harbour
Upper Level Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks
Ph: 02 9251 5600
Lunch Fri-Sun (from Aug 3)
Dinner nightly (from Jul 19).
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